Sykesville council seeks tax increase

Property rate would rise by 4 cents for 2004-2005

May 12, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Faced with state cuts and rising costs for electricity, fuel and health insurance, Sykesville has proposed its first property tax increase in more than a decade.

On Monday, the Town Council proposed a 4-cent increase, which would push the rate to 34 cents per $100 of assessed value. The council scheduled a public hearing on the 2004-2005 budget for May 24.

"We have been frugal in how we have invested and spent town money," said Mayor Jonathan Herman. "This is an adjustment because of the times. This is the responsible thing to do."

Of Carroll's eight incorporated municipalities, Sykesville is the only one proposing a tax increase this year, although others are considering increasing fees. The owner of a $200,000 home in the town of 4,500 residents would pay an additional $80 annually at the new rate.

At 34 cents, the town would fall between Westminster's 40-cent rate and New Windsor's 16-cent property tax, the lowest in the county. Town property owners also pay a county tax, which remains at $1.04 per $100 of assessed value.

"The Town Council empathizes with residents," said Matthew Candland, town manager. "We are all town residents ourselves. We are all dealing with higher assessments and tax increases. We understand that it adds to the burden."

The town budget committee trimmed the $2.2 million draft budget, including removal of money for a new trash truck, but officials said they were averse to cutting services. In addition, the town had several much-needed road projects and plans to hire a director for its burgeoning public works department.

The proposed increase would add about $90,600 in annual revenue.

"We have done significant cutting, but we are still about $60,000 in the hole," Candland said before the increase was proposed. "We could get by, but to continue deferring capital expenditures costs more in the long run."

State aid to the town is expected to be cut by more than $50,000, Candland said. In addition, the town has to find a new health insurer for its employees.

Deregulation in the electrical industry has created higher-than-expected costs, he said. Like everyone else, the town is facing higher costs for fuel. And the county has raised its fees for landfill use, a service Sykesville uses for its trash disposal.

"A 4-cent increase allows us to absorb state cuts, pay for unexpected increases and move forward with most capital projects," Candland said. "We also have to have a director of public works. That department is essentially running the way it did 30 years ago."

Councilwoman Debbie Ellis, who worked on the budget committee, said the alternative to an increase was to withdraw money from the town reserve funds.

"We looked at big and small items to cut, but there were no cushions left in anything," she said. "You can't take money out of reserves for day-to-day operations. That is not a good way to do business. The revenue stream is just not there to provide things."

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